Developer David Jaindl and South Whitehall Township officials spent more than an hour explaining a complex set of circumstance surrounding his interest in purchasing the Shoemaker’s auto dealership property to dozens of residents at the Board of Commissioners’ Wednesday night meeting.
“I have the same interest as you,” said Jaindl to residents who were concerned about potential commercial development at the car dealership property, located at 4131 Walbert Ave.
Two months ago Jaindl faced a flurry of discontent from neighboring residents when he proposed buying the 4-acre Shoemaker property, which is next to his proposed development coined as The Hills at Winchester, and placing a strip mall and restaurant on it.
A set of unusual circumstances has brought Jaindl into the mix to purchase the property, he said Wednesday night. South Whitehall Township, it was noted during the meeting, asked Jaindl to consider buying the property, according to William Erdman, assistant township engineer, and James Preston, alternate township solicitor, who spoke at length along with Jaindl about the complexities of the situation involving the lot to the crowd assembled.
Jaindl made it clear several times Wednesday night his interest is not the Shoemaker property, but his plans to place 90 homes on the 94-acre property known to locals as the Rutz Farm, across from 40th Street. He said that proposed development “will happen.” Erdman and Preston emphatically agreed, saying there was absolutely nothing in the plan that would legally or realistically deny its approval.
Any deal on the Shoemaker property would be based upon the township rezoning the lot to a category called “neighborhood commercial.” The property is in a residential zone, which is highly unusual. The reason, it was explained Wednesday night, is that the dealership is currently a “non-conforming use” which means multiple commercial development uses could go onto the property without the township’s consent or approval (the Shoemaker property zoning was grandfathered in under previous zoning).
“The non-conforming use is married to the real estate,” Preston explained during his dissertation on municipal real estate law. “It follows the property.”
It was the township’s intention to take advantage of this rare opportunity to get rid of the "non-conforming" status and work with a developer on a mutually beneficial different category, which would be the “neighborhood commercial” designation, according to both Preston and Erdman.
Residents peppered the three men with about a dozen questions, many which centered around the same theme of concerns about increased traffic and a business that would sell alcohol and be open late hours, thus ruining the character of the neighborhood, according to one neighbor, Robert Hamill, who said he lived in the 1500 block of neighboring Hampton Road.
Jaindl eventually answered those concerns by saying he didn’t see the merit in having a restaurant or bar open “until 2 a.m.” in that location, since it really is not conducive or alligned to his principal agenda, which is the development of his upscale Hills at Winchester lots. His only interest in the Shoemaker property at all, he said, is that by owning it he would have more control over its future development, than if another developer purchased the property under the nebulous “non-conforming” status.
Commissioner David Bond noted that this was a “good opportunity” to change the status, one that may never come again.
Agreed, noted Commissioner Dale Daubert, who said he was confident in the “intelligence and experience” of Jaindl, Preston and Erdman to arrive at an “amicable conclusion” to the issue that would prove mutually beneficial to the developer, township and all township residents.
After the questions and debate fizzled, Jaindl asked commissioners if they wanted him to come back at their next meeting in two weeks, to ostensibly answer more questions from residents and mollify their potential concerns. Daubert replied “yes.”
President Christina Morgan and Commissioner Glenn Block were absent from Wednesday night’s meeting.